With the 2021 NFL Draft in the rearview mirror, the Broncos appeared to be in good shape. Outside of the quarterback spot, it could be argued that they have one of the strongest rosters in the league. It was hard to find a hole for the team aside from QB, and with rumors swirling about them having a shot at acquiring Aaron Rodgers, it looked like they might be a legitimate Super Bowl contender if they could pull off a trade.
However, it looks like they now do have at least one glaring hole on their team after an Achilles injury suffered by starting right tackle Ja’Wuan James.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that James tore his Achilles in an off-site workout. Because the injury occurred outside of the Broncos’ facility, Denver can choose to void James’ $10 million base salary this year.
Broncos’ OT Ja’Wuan James suffered a season-ending torn Achilles working out today away from the team facility, per sources. James’ $10 million salary for the upcoming season now is in jeopardy being that Denver no longer is obligated to pay him with him working out off site.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 4, 2021
That would be a tough break for James depending on what the Broncos decide to do. He is in the second of a four-year contract he signed during the 2019 offseason, but he has been dogged by health concerns during that time. In fact, the 28-year-old tackle has played in just three games for the Broncos so far. He dealt with a knee injury that sidelined him for all but three contests during the ’19 season and chose to opt out last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
With his latest injury in the books, the Broncos may try to move on from James to avoid paying him eight figures this season and beyond.
That said, NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported that James’ doctors are hopeful that he won’t miss the entire season. So, perhaps Denver could choose to keep James in the hope that he can make a recovery in time to help out with the stretch run.
On the Ja’Wuan James situation, doctors evaluated the #Broncos’ OT’s torn Achilles today and told him they’re hopeful he won’t miss the entire season, source says. Surgery is slated for later this week and they’ll know more about the recovery timeframe then.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) May 4, 2021
Denver’s choice will be a difficult one. It has been hard to rely on James because of his injury woes, but the team doesn’t have an obvious replacement for him on the roster. Elijah Wilkinson, who started seven games in place of James last season, joined the Bears in the offseason, leaving three-year pros Calvin Anderson and Quinn Bailey as the most experienced backups behind James. The team chose not to address the tackle position despite a deep class at the position, so now, they may turn to the free-agent market for a short-term solution whether or not they decide to keep James.
Luckily, there are still some solid veteran tackles available via free agency. Some options to replace James include:
Mitchell Schwartz. The former Chiefs tackle was limited to just six games because of injury last year, but before that, he had made 128 consecutive starts and made an All-Pro team in 2018. If he’s healthy, he would be a big upgrade for Denver.
Rick Wagner. Another experienced tackle, Wagner has played in 118 career games with 96 starts. He played well for the Packers last year and would slot in well for the Broncos on the right side.
Russell Okung. During the 2016 season, Okung was a solid left tackle for the Broncos in his lone year with the squad. Could he be an option as he enters the later stages of his career? And would he be willing to move to right tackle? Those are two questions that Denver should ask before considering Okung.
Charles Leno Jr. After drafting Teven Jenkins last week, the Bears cut Leno, who had previously been their starting left tackle. Leno hasn’t missed a game in six years and has 94 starts. If the team is confident in his ability to play the right side, it could give him a shot.
Demar Dotson. He’s 35, but he started eight games at right tackle for the Broncos last year. If they still think he has enough left in the tank, Dotson could be given a chance to serve as a one-year filler on the right side of the line.
Soon enough, we’ll see what Denver does on the offensive line. Regardless of what it chooses to do with James and his salary, the team will still probably be in the market for some upgraded depth at the offensive tackle position in the wake of James’ injury.